Emerson's father was a Unitarian minister who died leaving his son to be brought up by his mother and aunt. Educated at Harvard, Emerson began writing journals filled with observations and ideas which would form the basis of his later essays and poems.

After a period of teaching, Emerson returned to Harvard to join the Divinity School where he was less than a perfect student owing to his poor health and a lack of conviction in religious dogma. He was ordained and was both effective and popular as a preacher, but felt compelled to resign because he did not feel he could conscientiously serve communion. In 1832 Emerson visited Europe, where he met Wordsworth, Coleridge and Carlyle through whom he became interested in transcendental thought. His meeting with Coleridge was to prove particularly influential as Emerson developed his themes of two levels of reality, the physical and the supernatural or Oversoul as he later called it.

On his return to Boston Emerson concentrated on lecturing rather than preaching, and lectures such as The Philosophy of History would form the foundation of future writings. He settled in Concord in 1835 where he became friends with other figures in the transcendental movement such as Thoreau and Hawthorne and began writing for and editing The Dial. After his second Essays, Emerson's writing began to show less confidence in the individual. He returned to Europe in 1847 and renewed his friendship with Carlyle, with whom he had kept in touch by letter, and met other European thinkers and writers.

During his last years he became increasingly involved in the anti-slavery campaign, but fell a victim to dementia, writing Terminus in the realisation that his intellect was failing.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson Poems

Brahma

If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.... more »

Dirge

Knows he who tills this lonely field
To reap its scanty corn,
What mystic fruit his acres yield
At midnight and at morn?... more »

Fate

Deep in the man sits fast his fate
To mould his fortunes, mean or great:
Unknown to Cromwell as to me
Was Cromwell's measure or degree;... more »

Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes

There is no one who does not exaggerate. In conversation, men are encumbered with personality, and talk too much.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. :"Nominalist and Realist," Essays, Second Series (1844).
Those who have ruled human destinies, like planets, for thousands of years, were not handsome men.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. "Beauty," The Conduct of Life (1860).
The covetousness or the malignity, which saddens me, when I ascribe it to society, is my own. I am environed by my self.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. "Character," Essays, Second Series (1844).

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